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Are You A Mental Game Fish?

Jared Tendler

Players who are successful in the mental game of poker use a strategy that’s proven to work for them. They have a structure and methodology in how they approach the mental game, and don’t need to rely on a lucky rabbit’s foot or praying to the poker gods.

If there were no way to control whether you play in “the zone” or go on tilt, my work as a mental game coach would be nothing more than blowing smoke up your ass. Tilting and playing your best happen for predictable reasons and occur in predictable patterns. As a poker player, you profit from your ability to analyze the patterns and habits of your opponents. Using the tools provided in this book, you will develop the ability to study the patterns and habits in your own mental game.

The fact that so many players have benefited from working on their mental game, whether from my advice or others’, is proof that success in the mental game comes down to skill, as poker does. However, many players think tilt, fear, motivation, and confidence happen for random, illogical, or irrational reasons. As a result, they say or think the following:

• “Logically, I know variance happens, so it’s stupid to tilt from a bad beat.”
• “For some reason, I decided to play like a donkey last night.”
• “I’m running really bad; maybe I should take a break.”
• “I always play my best game on Full Tilt.”
• “After being up big, I somehow manage to spew off a few stacks.”
• “I wish I could play as well as I did today, all the time.”

If you think the mental game is random, you simply lack the skill to see how it’s predictable and rational.

Skilled poker players are easily able to see how the actions of weaker opponents aren’t random. They pick up on betting patterns, timing tells, physical tells, and verbal tells, which allows them to exploit the games of weaker players. Weaker players don’t have the skill to see the predictability in their game. The same is true in the mental game. Right now, you probably don’t have the skill to recognize the actions, thoughts, and emotions that lead you to play your best or worst. That makes you a mental game fish. Thankfully, you were able to evolve from being a poker fish—and with the right information you can do the same with your mental game.

With poker more competitive than ever, more players are turning to the mental game as a valuable way to create an edge. Creating edge is not a new idea of course; it has just become more important in poker over the past several years, as the number of quality poker players has risen dramatically. Thanks to websites such as 2+2, Cardrunners, and others, the way the game is played has changed forever. Now, with the player pool so deep, parts of the game that weren’t taken so seriously even just a few years ago, such as the mental game, are now a necessity.

Mental Game Fish

Fish are fish in part because they believe things that aren’t true. They play in games where they are major underdogs without realizing it. They suck-out and believe they played great. They get schooled by another player and claim they were unlucky. They think their game doesn’t need work, and even if they did, would have no idea where to start. They have no understanding of what they can and can’t control at the table, and often think, “I knew the king was coming” or “I always win with ace-queen.”

You may be a solid winning poker player who recognizes the shortcomings of a bad player, but as far as the mental game is concerned, you are likely no different. A solid player is a mental game fish if they:

1. Change a proven winning strategy because they are running bad/hot.
2. Never recognize when someone has played well against them and/or believe everyone they play against is bad and just gets lucky.
3. Try to win every hand.
4. Think the outcome of a hand can be changed by shouting, praying, or playing a favorite hand.
5. Get frustrated when a bad player plays badly and they even educate them as to why they are bad.
6. Feel like a failure when they lose a hand that was played profitably.
7. Think the solution to running bad is to stop playing or change stakes.
8. Read a poker book cover to cover and think they know everything in it.
9. Watch some of Phil Galfond’s training videos and think they should now be able to crush the game like him.
10. Believe that they are cursed or that other people are luckier than they are.
11. Believe it’s possible to own another player’s soul.
12. Play more hands when they are winning/losing.
13. Play fewer hands when they are winning/losing.
14. Play badly when the stakes are too small for them to care.
15. Allow things to get personal with another regular.
16. Tell bad beat stories to anyone that will listen, while doing nothing to improve how they react to bad beats.
17. Say “one time.”

Mental Game Strategy

Think of the mental game as an actual game. As with any other game, winning requires skill and a good strategy.

While having a strategy is not a new idea, having a strategy for the mental game may be.

Winning in the mental game, so to speak, is fundamentally no different than learning to play winning poker: You need talent, hard work, and the right information. The only one of those you don’t control is talent. Some players are just naturally more talented than you in the mental game. For example, things that piss you off barely even raise their heartbeat or they have no trouble playing poker all day, while you struggle to grind longer than an hour. Seeing the natural mental game talents of others can make it seem as if it should be easy for you too. Wrong. It’s easy for them because they have more talent. Fortunately, if you are lacking talent in the mental game, hard work and the right information can eventually make it easy for you too.

Many players also believe that solutions to mental game problems are easy, because common poker wisdom makes it sound that way. So you’ll hear, “Just stay calm; don’t let it tilt you,” “Don’t focus on the money; make the right decision,” or “Take a deep breath; be fearless.” These all sound nice, but are the poker equivalent of saying “Just win the hand.” That, of course, is the whole challenge of the game—to develop a strategy to win the hand. In the mental game, the challenge is to develop a strategy so you can remain calm, focus on the decision and not the money, and not let fear affect your decision. It’s not as easy as common wisdom makes it sound.

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